President Barack Obama is receiving large political contributions from a formerly underdeveloped source of campaign funds: The National Basketball Association.
Last Thursday, Obama held a fundraiser at the home of Dallas Mavericks player Vince Carter in Orlando, Florida. Carter is among many other NBA stars who have rallied behind Obama in support of his re-election bid.
Alan Houston, formerly of the New York Knicks, has also held a fundraiser for Obama, and last year league MVP Derrick Rose, of the Chicago Bulls, spoke at an event to help kick off Obama's re-election efforts.
This is a new role for the NBA, which has managed over the years to stay relatively clear of politics. In 1990, former Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan made headlines when he refused to support Harvey Gantt, a black Democrat running for Senate in North Carolina, Jordan's home state. Jordan, as recently as last year, donated small amounts to GOP candidates including Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Herman Cain.
Obama's well-known love for the game of basketball has undoubtedly played a role in the NBA's support for his campaign. The Grio reported Friday on why Obama is the first candidate to be so heavily embraced by the NBA.
"It's the Obama factor, I think Obama makes it easier for these guys to do campaign stuff given what he represents in the community," Cornell Belcher, a Democratic strategist and a former pollster for Obama's 2008 campaign, told the Grio. "I think it's a lot easier to do an event for what really is a historical figure and icon in their communities than it would be for another guy who is just a political figure. Obama is really a once in a lifetime kind of figure who isn't viewed simply through the prism of politics, he is larger than that in their communities."
Well-known players such as Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder), Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers) and Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks) last year were forced to cancel an appearance at a non-NBA all-star game, which would have also served as a fundraiser for Obama, due to the NBA lockout. However, this year the event is expected to move forward, with ticket prices ranging from $200 to $3,000.
This is not the first show of support for Obama by the NBA. According to the Washington Post in 2010 Obama held a birthday basketball game in which players who donated sizable contributions during the 2008 campaign cycle were given the opportunity to shoot hoops with the president. The Center for Responsive Politics lists the players who participated and their contributions:
- Earvin "Magic" Johnson ($31,900)
- Shane Battier ($4,300)
- Alonzo Mourning ($2,300)
- Etan Thomas ($7,300)
- LeBron James ($20,000)
- Grant Hill ($2,300)
Attendees of Carter's event last week also included some of those same NBA figures, in addition to Steve Smith of the Philadelphia 76ers, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, and NBA Commissioner David Stern. Other players such as Lebron James, who could not attend the fundraiser, showed support by sending donations. Attendees of Carter's event were asked to donate $30,000 each.
Carter spoke to ESPN prior to Thursday's fundraiser and expressed gratitude for being able to host the event.
"It's a good cause. For as much as he's criticized, I think he's done a great job, that's a pressure situation to be in," Carter said of Obama. "It's just an honor to even be asked among all the people in the world to ask. Even just in the Orlando area there's a lot of prominent people who live there. I was asked, and I was more than honored."